When buses encounter delay, riders are inconvenienced and transit agencies are left to pick up the added operational costs of being stuck in traffic. A recent study led by the Transportation Planning Board has, for the first time, identified the top corridors or intersections throughout the Washington region where buses encounter the greatest travel delay and has made specific recommendations for "priority treatment" improvements in six of the worst locations to speed buses and to improve on-time performance.
The "Multimodal Coordination for Bus Priority Hot Spots" study was coordinated by the TPB and supported jointly by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) and the departments of transportation in Virginia, the District of Columbia, and Maryland. Representatives from the region's 12 local or state transit operators and officials from the local agencies responsible for maintaining roadways also participated in the work for the study.
In total, the study identified the top 15 locations in each of the three state-level jurisdictions where current bus services encounter the greatest delay during both the morning and afternoon peak periods and throughout the entire day. The rankings showed numerous locations where bus speeds averaged less than 10 mph, and some that averaged less than 5 mph.
WMATA previously conducted a similar study of its Metrobus routes throughout the region. The TPB study combined that work with new analysis of the bus routes currently operated by the local or state transit agencies to provide a full, regional list of the biggest problem spots.
Researchers used bus speed information collected by onboard GPS or other devices, or scheduled travel times when GPS information was unavailable, to determine which corridors or intersections experienced the greatest delays. These locations were then ranked based on the frequency of bus service to identify the "hot spots" where the greatest number of buses were experiencing the worst delays.
Extensive field observations were also a major component of the study. Researchers collected information on each of the identified "hot spots", including existing roadway lane configurations, bus stop locations, and the presence and condition of sidewalks, bike lanes, curb ramps, crosswalks, and traffic and pedestrian signals. They also collected information on parking policies in the area, roadway widths, posted speed limits, and existing traffic conditions, all to further explain current conditions and to look for opportunities to make improvements.
Together, the speed information and detailed field observations helped the study team identify two "hot spots" in each of the three state-level jurisdictions where specific "priority treatment" recommendations were most likely to be able to improve average bus speed and on-time performance.
In Virginia, the selected locations were Van Dorn Street between Franconia Road and Eisenhower Avenue, and Glebe Road at Arlington Boulevard.
In the District, 14th Street between Corcoran Street and Otis Place and North Capitol Street at New York Avenue were the two "hot spots" selected for further analysis and recommendations.
The two selected locations in Maryland were the Wheaton Metrorail station area, including Reedie Drive, Veirs Mill Road, and Georgia Avenue, and Piney Branch Road between Sligo Avenue and University Boulevard.
In all six "hot spots", the study team considered physical improvements like dedicated bus lanes or "queue-jump" lanes that allow buses to bypass back-ups at traffic signals, operational changes like relocation of stops or adjustments to bus schedules or routes to avoid identified problem areas, and signal timing improvements to improve overall traffic flow or to give buses priority when they approach intersections. The team conducted extensive analysis using computer models to figure out which treatments would result in the greatest improvements in travel times.
Estimates of the capital costs of the identified improvements as well as estimates of time savings to bus riders, impacts of improvements on general traffic at the six "hot spot" locations, and operational savings to the transit agencies accompanied specific recommendations developed for each location.
The TPB's "Multimodal Coordination for Bus Priority Hot Spots" completed in June 2012 represents a big step forward in identifying those areas where modest investments can have significant impacts on the operational efficiency and on-time performance of a bus transit system that moves tens of thousands of people every day to jobs, to school, to shopping, to medical appointments, and to countless other destinations in the Washington region. When the region's bus system operates at higher efficiency, it provides riders with a more convenient and reliable transportation option, and it provides the public with a greater return on its investment in public transit.